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Exile by Martin Owton

Exile by Martin Owton
3.25
Book Name: Exile
Author: Martin Owton
Publisher(s): Tickety Boo Press
Formatt: Hardcover / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 16, 2016

Shortlisted for last year’s Best Newcomer prize at the British Fantasy Awards, Exile is the first half of Martin Owton’s Nandor Tales – the story concludes in Nandor, also through Tickety Boo Press. From the cover art, the reader may be expecting a high-stakes, world-shifting epic fantasy, but the truth is a little different: Exile has set its roots in David Gemmell’s studies of conflicted characters, and personal missions, and is all the better for that, in my opinion.

Aron is the titular exile, having escaped from his homeland of Darien when it was invaded by Tirellan, the main villain of the piece. Aron’s life is now spent drifting from country to country, hoping to drum up support for his cause before the High King, as well as avoiding Tirellan and his allies. When he reaches Nandor, he finds himself embroiled in a mission to rescue the Earl’s son, Maldwyn, who is being held for ransom by the Duke of Sarazan. This mission sets up the other main strand of the plot, with chases, duels, and sorcery all involved, as well as the intervention of a goddess who takes a personal interest in Aron’s affairs.

Exile is pacey, focusing heavily on Aron and the Earl’s two young daughters Celaine and Edith who, along with every other red-blooded female in the book, have fallen for the lad’s charms. With disbelief firmly suspended, you can see Aron as a sort of medieval James Bond figure in this respect. With economic descriptions and sharp sentences, we don’t see a great deal of Owton’s world, but here the story is the focus. Owton wisely pads the dialogue with humour and makes his fight scenes flow pleasingly fast and bloodily. As such Exile can stand alongside John Gwynne’s Faithful and Fallen series as a great example of modern heroic fantasy, and proof that the genre doesn’t have to resort to all-out grimdark to keep readers interested.

There are a few minus points, however: Tirellan’s fate feels premature and robs the story of a great final showdown. Instead Aron faces off against Sarazan’s champion in an arena duel, and again Owton allows the tension to build before pulling the carpet from under the narrative. Looking ahead, you can make the case for everything being more conclusively settled at the end of Nandor, but it leaves the conclusion of Exile feeling a tad underwhelming. Aron’s Lynx-like pheromones cause a few eye-rolls too, though Owton does create some very interesting consequences for further down the line – let’s just say that Celaine and Edith will probably be very unimpressed.

As a debut, Exile is generally a very good Gemmell-flavoured piece of heroic fantasy, and marks Martin Owton as a name to watch in the future.

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